GPs dispute Javid’s claim lack of appointments is overloading A&Es

Exclusive: Royal College of GPs write to health secretary that there is no basis for allegation made to MPs

Family doctors have reopened their bitter dispute with the government by accusing Sajid Javid of misleading MPs and the public by blaming overloaded A&Es on a lack of GP appointments.

The Royal College of GPs has told the health secretary in a strongly worded letter that there is no basis for the claim, which he made to MPs last week and which was widely covered by the media.

In it Prof Martin Marshall, the college’s chair, said that its 54,000 members “are dismayed and disappointed at the media coverage of your evidence session, which suggested that the lack of face-to-face GP appointments was placing additional strain on accident and emergency departments”.

He disputed Javid’s claim that there is evidence which links the issues.

He wrote: “You told the [health and social care select] committee you had seen data which showed that more patients were presenting at A&E departments because they were unable to access primary care. I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that this is happening and would welcome sight of any data you have.”

Tensions are simmering between GPs and the government since Javid’s edict last month that GPs in England must see any patient who wants an in-person appointment.

Marshall’s letter comes as family doctors vote in an indicative ballot organised by the British Medical Association to gauge their willingness to take industrial action to oppose the plan and its accompanying performance management regime, which would “name and shame” practices that do not offer enough face-to-face consultations. Results of the ballot are due on 18 November.

Javid told MPs on the committee on 2 November that “a significant portion of people are turning up for emergency care when they could have actually gone to their GP.

“Part of the reason that I think people are turning up at A&E, perhaps when they do not need it, is that they are not able to get through to their primary care services in the usual way.”

He told the MPs that “I want to share with you a statistic that I am trying to recall”, to prove his point. However, he then said that “I will refrain from sharing the statistic”, and did not indicate what the figure was, what it showed or who had produced it.

He was asked if he agreed with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), which represents A&E doctors, that lack of GP appointments had led to the increased pressure A&Es are under. Javid replied: “That general point is correct.”

Marshall further underlined his belief that the facts do not support Javid when he told the Guardian that the minister’s link between access to GPs and A&E attendances “is fast becoming received wisdom without scrutiny”. He added: “Yet we are not aware of any hard data to suggest that this is the case and are asking Mr Javid for clarity about the figures he was referring to.”

The letter also warns that 14,000 GPs could leave the profession by 2026 due to heavy workloads, stress and the government’s failure to address the workforce crisis in general practice.

Javid conceded at the select committee that the government will fail to deliver Boris Johnson’s 2019 pledge of increasing GP numbers in England by 6,000 by 2024-25. The number of full-time GPs is falling and more are going part-time to improve their work/life balance.

The Department of Health and Social Care have been contacted for Javid’s response to the letter.


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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